As San Francisco solidifies its status as the tech capital of the United States, the city is often accused of losing its soul. The winding streets are covered in electric scooters, and there seems to be a green smoothie joint or upscale coffee store on every corner. However, the heart of what made San Francisco special still lives on its incredible array of cuisines. If you know where to look, you can fulfill almost any craving.
When I’m feeling bummed out by omnipresent fog or just need a bit of warmth, I head to one of my favorite noodle spots in the city. Skip the fast-casual chains and try these gems to get your noodle fix instead — whether you’re in the mood for filling Japanese ramen or a light tofu noodle, San Francisco has it all.
Kevin’s Noodle House (also known as Pho Huynh Hiep)
1833 Irving Street, Outer Sunset
With one location set in the hubbub of the Outer Sunset’s Irving Street area and two more in Daly City, Kevin’s Noodle House is a staple for any pho aficionado. The speedy service and rich spice-infused broths are unrivaled. Take a seat at one of the tightly packed tables and enjoy anything from a classic Number 13 (beef broth with translucent vermicelli noodles and rare steak) to a more adventurous mì, an egg noodle soup with fish cake and hearty slabs of pork belly. Make sure to wash down your soup with a Lemon Soda, an ingenious and refreshing invention that consists of a can of Perrier sparkling water along with a glass of lemon juice and sugar, mixed to your specifications.
3406 18th Street, Mission District
If you’re looking to explore the wonderful world of Burmese food, look no further than Yamo, a cozy, cash-only kitchen in the middle of the vibrant Mission neighborhood. The restaurant only fits around 10 at a time on classic diner stools, so make sure to arrive before the dinner rush at around seven o’clock.
Upon entering, revel in the sensory overload: yam samosas splattering in the deep-fryer, lemongrass boiling in pots of brightly colored yellow chicken curry, and the famous Yamo House Noodles with your choice of beef, pork, chicken, or tofu, sizzling on the griddle. These noodles are chewy and savory, perfectly spiced with crispy fried garlic chips and sweet soy sauce. Slurp down your food under the watchful eye of the owner, but be careful with your phone — she prefers a picture-free environment in which to work her noodle magic.
Yin Du Wonton Noodle
648 Pacific Avenue, Chinatown
If you ever find yourself burned out from the chaos and the bustling souvenir shops of Chinatown’s Grant Street, grab a piping-hot bowl of wonton noodle soup at Yin Du Wonton Noodle. Behind its nondescript façade lies a vast menu of noodle soups. For just over five dollars, dig into a large bowl of thin wheat noodles and plump pork- and shrimp-filled wontons. The broth is clear and subtle in flavor; follow the locals and add a healthy dollop of one of the homemade hot sauces available on each table. Gluten-free folks can enjoy some warm rice porridge, served with a salty sauce and your choice of oysters, liver, fish, or preserved egg. Pay up front when you finish and walk out knowing you’ve scored one of the best noodle bargains in town.
Kingdom of Dumplings
1713 Taraval Street, Outer Sunset
While Kingdom is best known for its dumplings (as the name suggests), try one of the noodle dishes to be transported to the plains of Northern China. Most remarkable is the rendition of zhàjiàngmiàn, a Beijing specialty made with thick noodles topped with thinly sliced pickled vegetables, minced pork, and a robust and complex black bean paste. Mix it all together and share with the whole family. For those looking for a lighter option, start off your meal with the cold tofu skin noodle. These noodles have a refreshing taste and elastic texture, and they’re a good counterbalance to the more flavor-packed items on the menu.
356 Kearny Street, Financial District
To find authentic Tokyo-style ramen, venture to the Financial District to sample the fare of the incredible Ramen Underground. Start off with a side of gyoza (Japanese potstickers) then move on to the star of the show: the slow-cooked, milky white tonkotsu pork broth. The noodles do not disappoint, and for a small extra charge, you can load up your bowl with a variety of toppings, including corn, butter, kimchi, or a soft-boiled egg. Ramen Underground’s soup is fatty without being overbearing; the saltiness of the broth balances perfectly with the slightly sweet noodles. This spot is popular with the downtown lunch crowd, so snag a table in the mid-afternoon.